Paper, Plastic, or Bring Your Own?

Every time I check out at a grocery store, I have a soul-searching moment. Should I use plastic, paper, or bring my own reusable bags? Plastic bags have a long-standing, well-documented bad rap: they add litter, they choke and poison wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills or in oceans, they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle. Many countries, several US cities, and some large chain stores have banned them. And, as far as I know, no one yet has banned paper bags.

With this in mind, I have been insisting on paper bags for some time, thinking it is the best option, expecting to feel good when I do it. It helps me keep the amount of plastic I discard to a minimum because I reuse the paper bags to line both my kitchen waste can (expecting they will decompose in the landfills) and my recycling bin (expecting they will be transformed into some other material). At my local store, I have to ask for paper, and quickly too, before the clerk automatically puts my purchases in plastic bags. If I am too slow and miss this opportunity, I remove my items and put them in paper bags myself. I try to do this unobtrusively to not call attention to myself or hold up the line. Yet, somehow, I always end up feeling like a persnickety fuss-budget.

Whole Foods and EarthFare do not even offer plastic bags, so I should breeze through the check-out line feeling fine, right? Not that easy. At these stores, lots of customers bring their own totes. Is it just my imagination or do they all have a smug, greener-than-thou look about them? Instead of persnickety, I end up feeling eco-UNfriendly. I know these stores pride themselves on their politically correct image. If they only offer paper, it must not be a bad choice, or is it? I’ve now found several reports defying the claim that paper is better than plastic, detailed on websites like How Stuff Works, TreeHugger, and EcoMyth…and I am left wondering.

If you bring your own tote bags to the grocery store, what should you use to line your trash and waste cans? Interestingly, none of these sites mention this. Do you still buy plastic garbage bags, most of which do not decompose in the landfills? Or, do you avoid that by buying biodegradable plastic bags? Do you have to buy them online or can you find them in local stores? If they sell such items anywhere, no doubt it would be at these socially responsible groceries. I wonder if that is what I should do. Like Kermit the Frog sang many years ago, “It’s Not That Easy Being Green“.

2 thoughts on “Paper, Plastic, or Bring Your Own?

  1. spoor33 December 27, 2014 / 5:48 am

    Yes, I agree about the dilemma of what to line your kitchen trash can with. I use bags made out of recycled plastic, though that doesn’t solve the problem of them not braking down in the landfill, at least it’s not new plastic… My supermarket doesn’t carry biodegradable trash bags big enough for the kitchen. But they do sell smaller ones and I use those for the bathroom. They are way more expensive than they ought to be, but maybe they will start coming down as more people think more about the problem of plastic. I try to use the totes for the groceries. Interestingly, when I use totes, I often only need one or two. If the same amount of groceries were in plastic bags, there’d be like 20. I do not like the way most of the check-out people bag the groceries for this reason. they often only put one thing in a bag. yikes!
    I hope I’m not having a holier than thou look when I use the totes. You may be right about what it’s like at Whole Foods when I forget my totes. I just haven’t noticed. And when I do get their paper bags, I do use them to line the trash…

    • accidental goddess December 27, 2014 / 4:45 pm

      Thanks for weighing in. I know you are up on this and value your input. Lately, I have been taking my own bags to the store to use along with some paper bags when my purchase is large or when my stash of paper bags at home is adequate.

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